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Volume 23 No. 1
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ACC schedule injects energy into opening night

Syracuse will host conference foe and defending national champion Virginia to open the season this week.
Photo: getty images
Syracuse will host conference foe and defending national champion Virginia to open the season this week.
Photo: getty images
Syracuse will host conference foe and defending national champion Virginia to open the season this week.
Photo: getty images

The ACC believes it has discovered a low-calorie, high-energy alternative to the cupcake opponents that traditionally fill the opening week by doing something that’s never been done in recent college basketball history — 14 of the 15 ACC schools will open the season with conference foes.

Defending national champion Virginia goes to Syracuse. Notre Dame and North Carolina tangle in Chapel Hill. Louisville ventures to Miami. These conference matchups, typically played in the heart of the league season in January and February, will extend across two days this week, providing a unique opening week for college basketball.

Big Ten visibility

The Big Ten has made strides to strengthen its quality of schedule, especially early in the season, and to increase the league’s exposure. Regular-season viewership was up 5% across all networks for Big Ten games last season.

With Big Ten teams participating in an array of early-season tournaments, as well as the Gavitt Games and the challenge series against the ACC, “We’re trying to move toward a model showing how modern college basketball should evolve to serve its participants, its fans and its media partners,” said Kerry Kenny, the Big Ten’s assistant commissioner of public affairs.

The fight for exposure extends into the new year. From Jan. 2 through the end of the regular season, a Big Ten team will be playing 53 of 67 days.

Paul Brazeau, the ACC’s senior associate commissioner for men’s basketball, was in the room two years ago during the league’s annual meetings when coaches first broached the creative scheduling idea. It was prompted by two factors — the expansion of the conference schedule to 20 games and the launch of the ACC Network, which went live in August.

“It had not previously been kicked around,” Brazeau said. “I think everyone was a bit surprised that the coaches would even be willing to consider such a thing.”

To be clear, it wasn’t a unanimous decision, but the concept received more support than expected from coaches, most of whom were open to trying something different as a means of making opening night more special.

“College basketball really didn’t have sort of a definitive opening night,” Brazeau said, until last season when opening night went from a Friday to a Tuesday to create separation from the glut of football on the weekend. “So, when the NCAA changed the calendar, it opened up these other possibilities.”

The remaining scheduling quirk was what to do with the 15th team, but that was resolved with Duke playing in the State Farm Champions Classic this week in New York.

Brazeau said each conference game will have a rematch later in the season.

“We made sure that if you’re playing somebody on Nov. 5, you’ll see them again later in the season,” Brazeau said.